Training and competition are hard on your body, but you can make your training and recovery much more effective by doing your best with sleep, hydration, nutrition, and personal care.
Sleep – You should sleep at least eight hours a night, preferably nine. Naps can help but they should be in addition to your nightly eight to nine hours, and please know that sleeping twelve hours on Saturday night cannot make up for sleep lost during the week. Nothing will help your training more than getting enough sleep. Your body does most of it’s rebuilding, the essential element of training, only when you sleep, so sleeping only six hours has the same effect as reducing your training load by 25%.
Hydration – You should drink a minimum of 64 ounces or 2 liters of liquid a day, plus an additional amount to replace what is lost during exercise (see below). Proper hydration is the next most important part of taking care of yourself. A dehydrated body will not recover well and will quickly break down, and because of the intensity of your training, you will need to drink a lot. Plus, it is hot during cross country season, so it is not uncommon for an athlete to loose as much as two kilos of body weight after a tough session on a hot day. Please keep these details in mind:
- Count everything you drink – water, juice, sports drinks – in reaching your 64 oz/ 2 l total, but the majority of your hydration should come from water
- Before a workout or competition – drink 500 to 600 ml (17 to 20 oz) of water or a sports drink 2 to 3 hours before, and 300 to 360 ml (10 to 12 fl oz) of water 0 to 10 minutes before the workout or race.
- After a workout or competition: drink enough liquid to replace what was lost. This amount can vary from person to person and under differing weather conditions, but a good rule of thumb is at least 10oz/300ml per half hour of activity. Make sure this includes 12-16 oz (360-500ml) of sports drink, and is completed within 2 hours of the end of the event.
- The easiest measure of proper hydration is urination. You should urinate throughout the day and your urine should be clear to pale yellow. Darker urine is a sign of dehydration.
Nutrition – A trained runner is like a highly developed machine, and good food is the fuel one needs. Runners need to eat frequently, well, and a lot. Here are the basic guidelines:
- Each day, a runner should consume 5-7 grams of carbohydrates, 1.7-2g of protein and fat per kilogram of body weight. So a 132 pound/60 kilogram athlete would need to eat 300-420 grams of carbohydrates and 102-120 grams of proteins and fats. Athletes under very heavy training may need up to 10g per kilo of bodyweight a day. Learn to read labels and use this website so you can be accurate.
- Keep careful track of how much and the proportions of what you are eating. You can keep track by downloading and printing this worksheet.
- The closer food is to its natural state, the better it will be for you, so whole wheat bread is better than wheat bread which is better than white bread, and apples are better than apple sauce.
- Be sure to eat a small amount of food within 30 minutes of the end of a workout or competition. Ideally, the food will have a 4 to 1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein. Energy bars, an apple with peanut butter or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich all meet this standard.
- Try to eat five to six times a day – with a snack between meals and small snack before bed. Frequent, smaller meals help your body process food much more effectively and greatly improves the recovery process.
- If you want to learn more download the booklet “Nutrition for Athletics” produced by the IAAF’s (the international track federation) Medical Commission.
Supplements – Who knows? The internet is packed with all kinds of pills and potions promising some amazing performance edge. Most (all?) are either worthless or harmful or sometimes both. The best way to supplement your nutrition is to simply eat well. Having done that, you might want to think about these three supplements
- A multivitamin to fill in the gaps in your eating
- An essential fatty acid – most often found in fish oil pills – take one with breakfast and one with dinner. EFA’s provide “good” fat, which promotes cardiovascular development and helps the body better process the “bad” fats that are bound to show up in any teen’s diet. There is also some evidence that EFA’s help prevent joint inflammation.
- Vitamin C – heavy training can suppress the immune system.
Personal Care – mainly means taking care of your feet. Here’s a couple of things to keep in mind:
- Take care of blisters right away, and be very careful to keep any broken blister clean.
- Keep your toenails trimmed and clean. Don’t trim them just before you run – do it when you’ll have the most time before you run again. If you are prone to ingrown toenails, be extra, extra careful.
- Watch out for “crusty achilles”, that patch of dry, crusty skin that often develops at the place where your shoe rubs on your achilles tendon. This dry patch can crack and become an open wound which is very vulnerable to infection. One of our athletes contracted a staph infection from this last year, so be sure to moisturize to keep the crusty patch from developing, but if it does and it cracks, treat it very carefully and thoroughly.
- Do Not Wear Flip-Flops! Wearing flip-flops for more than a few minutes radically alters your gait and puts a tremendous amount of stress on your achilles tendons. It’s OK to wear if you’re getting into the car to go to a friend’s house, but Do Not wear them to school, to church, to the mall, to Disneyland, to… well, you get the idea. Do not wear flip-flops.